Startup Q&A: Sanctuary Founder Robert Martin

Sanctuary

Startup Q&A is an interview series showcasing early-stage health, fitness, and wellness companies.

In this Q&A, we spoke with Robert Martin, founder and CEO of Sanctuary, a Seattle-based wellness studio offering technology-driven immersive experiences. Robert details Sanctuary’s position in the activated experiential environment (AEE) category and also explains the scalability of sensory, retreat-like studios in your city.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Sanctuary?

Robert Martin: Sanctuary is pioneering the category of activated experiential environments (AEE) by developing the category’s first wellness application for physical space.

Activated by our proprietary software, our studios are integrated with sensory-enhancing technology that takes our guests’ interaction with yoga, meditation, sound healing, breathwork, or just about any wellness modality to the next level.

Sanctuary provides a fully immersive, first-of-its-kind, technology-driven wellness experience where each guest chooses their on-screen content (produced by Sanctuary), studio temperature, aromatherapy (curated by Sanctuary), and soundtrack (assembled by Sanctuary) on our website or mobile app.

Once they have done so, all they need to do is arrive at their session time (chosen by the guest). Our software activates their selections at the appropriate intervals, bringing their multisensory environment to life.

How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?

RM: There are many practitioners in a number of wellness modalities providing their knowledge to students in various ways, both offline and online (but more so online in the pandemic).

We found no uniform physical space existed for students to engage with those instructors, with many doing so from their devices online or within general yoga studio environments.

The idea of creating a fully automated, physical space that could transport a person to any place in the world, while also practicing with any instructor in the world, was very compelling.

The earliest of inspirations was a trip I took to Vietnam, where I’d roll a yoga mat out on a beautiful deck at a villa, with the backdrop of a fisherman’s bay, the heat of the morning, and the scent of nature in the air. I asked myself why such an environment couldn’t be replicated utilizing technology back where I live in rainy Seattle.

Sanctuary can provide any guest with exactly this type of experience while also allowing them to learn from the best instructors in the world, either via programming Sanctuary produces or through instructor-led sessions, whereby an instructor can book the space to teach (also choosing all the ambient conditions of the studio inclusive of immersive video backdrops).

How did you turn your idea into a company?

RM: We turned Sanctuary from concept to reality through 2018 and 2019, launching a test site in Seattle in October 2019. While the pandemic caused us to shut the test site down for a few months in 2020, we successfully launched at the beginning of 2021 and have seen over 2,800 customers book over 7,800 sessions (for three studios within the test site).

Providing the best of all worlds, Sanctuary allows these guests to go on a micro retreat with an instructor of their choosing, for just an hour or so locally, rather than traveling to a destination for days or weeks to practice in such an environment. And the reviews from our guests have been beyond glowing and act as our guide to improving our overall experience.

How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?

RM: The market for wellness is quite large, defined as any activity that makes a person feel physically or mentally better.

The market for yoga, specifically, is about 30M people in the US, with revenue of about $12B annually in the US. Adding further modalities of wellness and mindfulness, including meditation, sound healing, breathwork, reiki, and others, we estimate the total market size is well beyond $20B in the US, with the average wellness consumer spending $500–1,000 annually on such activities.

Given the lack of any significant brand in the space, especially with physical locations, we expect we can capture 5–10% of this market in the next 10 years in the US, or $1–2 billion in revenue annually. Our goal is to launch 1,000 sites in this timeframe to support this goal.

To do this, we have raised approximately $6M to support the development of our technology platform and content production. We have also built a full Network Operations Center for support of all future sites, allowing for centralized training and support through a fully integrated system at each site.

Our system allows for just one to two people to operate any site, regardless of how many studios, allowing for significant efficiencies as we scale. Our test site has provided developers in the office, multi-family real estate, retail, and hospitality industries with a proof of concept, drawing interest from several for further development of Sanctuary sites in their properties.

We are evaluating partnerships across multiple markets in the US and abroad and are currently underway with our first property partner, EQ Office (owned by Blackstone), developing five sites within their office portfolio in Seattle, Southern California, and Chicago.

Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?

RM: Our current demographic is approximately 80% female, ages 25–44. However, our broader audience is any person generally interested in mindfulness and better physical and mental health.

Our test site has primarily grown via word of mouth, with marketing efforts about to turn up in 2022 as we launch the five new sites. We are also currently producing a new content series, inclusive of further immersive lighting arrays, sound resonance, and other integrated elements to provide an even more amazing Sanctuary experience. We expect to launch these in 2022 as featured experiences at Sanctuary.

Our customer base is planned to grow by market through social media and corresponding word of mouth. We are additionally focused on building the broader Sanctuary lifestyle brand accompanying the in-studio experience, with plans for an uplift to our online presence also planned in early 2022.

Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?

RM: Our path over the next three to six months is pretty clear, as we are heads down in building mode on our next five sites. Our test site continued to achieve near-sellout booking through late 2021, and we expect the same as we enter 2022. We also anticipate adding one or two material development partners in the first half of 2022, growing the pipeline of sites under development by 10 or 15.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers?

RM: Sanctuary was a concept handed to us by the universe. We believe we are on a mission to provide a calming balance and safe space to our guests, allowing them to exit the frenetic world we are currently inhabiting and go within.

We believe spaces like Sanctuary are going to become increasingly important in the years to come, as our world is only becoming even more chaotic. We are hopeful that Sanctuary becomes a considered respite for as many people as possible in the future.

If you’re interested in having your company featured in our Startup Q&A series, send an email to team@fitt.co.